McDonald’s and Sodexo “carrying” the sector when it comes to sustainable palm oil

WWF has criticised foodservice companies for failing to source more sustainable palm oil. The 2016 Palm Oil Scorecard, published this week, show the sector is “notably lagging behind” retail and manufacturing.

“While we see some very good performers in this sector, like McDonald’s and Sodexo, too many others are not yet moving far or fast enough,” WWF agricultural commodities manager Emma Keller told Footprint. “A number of foodservice companies didn’t respond to our requests for information and in a world where transparency and openness is so important, this is not acceptable behaviour.”

Palm oil is now the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, accounting for 65% of all vegetable oil traded internationally and the use of palm oil is expected to double by 2020. The increase in demand will continue to drive deforestation in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, as well as Africa and Latin America, as new plantations are developed to meet demand. Unless companies act, of course.

But Keller must feel like a broken record when it comes to sustainable sourcing within this sector. “I frequently hear excuses from these companies,” she said in a ‘My Viewpoint’ piece for February’s magazine about another commodity with a heavy environmental impact, soy. In July, WWF’s soy scorecard was published and foodservice was again found to be full of laggards rather than leaders.

Why? Lack of pressure and public presence could have been factors, Keller suggested this week. However, that’s no longer the case: every actor in the palm oil supply chain is recognising that they need to take responsibility and act.

Leaders and laggards

 Indeed, look across to retail and even firms not necessarily renowned for their sustainable practices are posting top scores for sourcing more sustainably certified palm oil – Morrisons with a nine out of nine and Tesco with an eight.

In manufacturing, meanwhile, there are positive stories everywhere with companies including Unilever, Pepsico, Associated British Foods and Waburtons all scoring “nines” in this year’s assessment. All these companies are improving. Twenty-eight of the 44 food manufacturers are sourcing at least 75% Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) for example.

There are laggards too, of course. Both the retail and manufacturing sectors are “polarised”, WWF noted in its report, but the well-known British brands tend to be towards the top end of the rankings.

In foodservice, McDonald’s and Sodexo are far and away the leaders, both scoring maximum points for their efforts to source 95% and 100% CSPO respectively. Whitbread failed to respond to WWF’s request, resulting in a score of zero. It was the same for Yum!, which owns KFC. The score does not represent the company’s commitments and progress, a spokeswoman said.

“We have publicly committed to removing palm oil from cooking oil in our restaurants globally. For those markets that cannot remove palm, we have created roadmaps to source sustainable palm oil by the end of 2017,” she explained.

Compass’s excuses

Compass sits in mid-table, with a score of four – an improvement on the last scorecard in 2013. It is working towards sourcing 100% CSPO by 2020, but doesn’t source any yet. A spokesperson suggested WWF’s assessment of the group globally is partly to blame for the score. This didn’t wash with Keller at WWF.

“There was a difference in the geographical scope [however] is not an excuse for why they fall behind some of their peers,” she said. “Despite being assessed at a national level, Sodexo report higher volumes of palm oil usage and are able to show that 100% of it is sustainably certified, whereas Compass, although assessed globally, report lower overall volumes of which none is sustainably certified.”

Keller said Sodexo has shown it’s possible for a foodservice company of this type (one using palm oil as an ingredient in many different products) to source sustainable palm oil. “They are leading the way and others should follow.”

Sodexo wants to go further, it seems, by reducing its reliance on GreenPalm certificates. Buying certificates for certified palm oil supports the production of RSPO-certified palm oil on the ground but doesn’t necessarily mean actual certified palm oil is in the product. So-called “physical” CSPO, on the other hand, is exactly as described: the actual physical certified palm oil is segregated from the conventional stuff so companies can be sure that it’s CSPO in their products (they can even label it as such).

Unilever has a target of 100% physical certified sustainable palm oil by 2019, whilst Nestlé has also phased out the purchase of GreenPalm certificates. Nestlé is one of the world’s biggest consumers of palm oil, but only 24% of the 417,834 tonnes it uses is CSPO, noted WWF. A spokesperson welcomed WWF’s scrutiny but said the assessment failed to take account of the overall level of supply chain traceability the company now has in place for palm oil.

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